Fighting the Bout of Block?

Recently there has been a push for schools to switch from the traditional seven, or eight period school days, to a system of scheduling called ‘block.’ In fact, the Cedar Rapids Community School District is one of the only districts in Cedar Rapids, and surrounding communities, that isn’t on some type of block scheduling.

A team at the CRCSD is researching and exploring more ideas to help carry out the district’s mantra, “Every Learner: Future Ready.” The team is led by the high school’s administrators, and seeked options that could work with all of the different environments of the schools, but also helps EVERY student individually. “Our current schedule works in many regards; however, it is also limiting… and sometimes ‘locks’ kids in with fewer options,” says Noreen Bush, the Deputy Superintendent of the Cedar Rapids district.

There are many different types of block. One type is 4×4, where class periods are 95-120 minutes long, but there are only four class periods a day. This can be set up in semesters, so that students only take four classes per semester, or can be set up on alternating A/B days, where students go to periods 1-4 on A days and periods 5-8 on B days. Xavier High School just switched to the 4×4 A/B block, and Principal Angela Olsen has definitely noticed a change. “The pulse of the school has definitely changed,” said Olsen. “The feel during the day is much more relaxed. Students just have more time.”

Block schedules can also be modified, such as Linn Mar’s modified 4×4 block. They have four ‘blocks’ a day, but then have eight ‘skinnies,’ 45-50 minute periods running at the same time as the blocks. “It does allow for more focus and concentration on a fewer number of courses for students,” says Jeff Gustason, Linn Mar Principal.

Both of these administrators did say that one of the main reasons they switched was to maximize time. This type of scheduling also allows for less time in the hallways moving between classes, so less time for behavioral problems to occur. The eight period schedule would also let students take one more class than our current seven period schedule.

There are also cons with switching schedules. Advanced Placement (or AP) courses are harder to fit to a block schedule. By the time of the AP exams, some students haven’t touched the course in a semester, or haven’t completed all of the material that needs to be covered. If a student misses class, either because of sickness or because of extracurricular opportunities, they miss out on two days of instruction rather than just one, and every day they miss, the workload is  automatically doubled.

One pro of block is that teachers can change up the teaching style to incorporate more hands-on learning, deeper discussions, and science labs, but some teachers may not take advantage of the extra time. According to Vittana (an online business blog), “One of the biggest complaints that students have with block scheduling is that their teachers do the ‘same boring things’ for longer periods of time.”

Block scheduling has its pros and cons, but is it what it takes in making “Every Learner: Future Ready”?